Saturday, May 7, 2011

A veteran engineer calls for volunteers from other senior citizens for the repair of the Fukushima nuclear plants

Yastel Yamada, a retired engineer, has proposed a rational and pragmatic solution for the repair of the Fukushima nuclear plants: calling for volunteers from senior citizens (particularly retired engineers), who are biologically less susceptible to radiation and over the age of reproduction.

This rational choice poses an ethical question as well: should we support an act of self-sacrifice for society? -- a taboo topic in Japan after the World War II.

Together with other volunteers, Yamada opened an English web page, in addition to German one, Italian one, and needless to say a Japanese one.

Below is some excerpts from the site: Proposal for a Skilled Veterans Corps to install an alternative cooling system at the Fukushima-Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant.

Repair or installation of the cooling system will unavoidably be conducted in an environment highly contaminated with radioactive elements with serious risk of future health complications. As such, young people with a long future should not have to be placed in a position of having to undertake such a task. Radiation exposure of a generation which may reproduce the next generation should be avoided, regardless of the amount

Our generation who has, consciously or unconsciously, approved the construction of the Fukushima nuclear power plants and enjoyed the benefits of the vast supply of electricity generated, in particular those of us who hailed the slogan that “Nuclear Power is Safe” should be the first to join the Skilled Veteran Corps to install or repair the cooling system. This is the duty of our generation to the next generation and the one thereafter.

As an experienced engineer, Yamada believes that the repair of the Fukushima nuclear plants needs a lot of manual works and that radiation exposure beyond the reasonable limit may be necessary for the workers on site, for working in a short time (like 10 - 15 minutes) would not amount to a proper repair work.

According to the video below, Yamada says that more than 60 senior citizens have volunteered so far, and he asks for all kinds of support from younger generations in Japan and abroad.

Associating Yamada's proposal with Kamikaze-Banzai Attack is wrong because, as you can see in the video below, he and other volunteers are perfectly free from heroic self-indulgence. His purpose is to fix the problem, not to die heroically from desperation. Yamada calmly suggest that a cooperation from the Japanese government and Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) is necessary.

Samurai may be a proper way of describing them for their pragmatism for a noble of cause of defending their fellow people. I'd argue that together with the example of Tokyo Fire Department's Hyper Rescue Squad ( Yamada demonstrates that Samurai is not dead in Japan.

For those of you who may have difficulties in following the Japanese in the interview video below, here is my summary of what they say.

Yastel Yamada (the organizer)

* From the experience as a veteran engineer, I can tell that the repair work of the Fukushima nuclear plants requires the manual work by experienced workers.

* Replacing workers at every 10-15 minute because of the radiation exposure limit is not effective for a proper repair.

* Young workers who may reproduce younger generation and are themselves more susceptible to radiation effect should not be engaged in such a work. This repair work is a call for senior citizens like me.

* I started this project (Skilled Veterans Corps) because if I act alone I wouldn't even be admitted to the site of the Fukushima nuclear plants.

* This project needs an official support from the national government for the budget and other resources. The cooling system of the plants must be restored completely and maintained for at least 10 years. Such a long term project needs a national support.

* Workers who are engaged in the repair work at the Fukushima nuclear plants must be recognized as individual persons. Workers in a highly demanding situation like this needs psychological support from the general public. [Note: The workers at the plants (Fukushima 50) are still anonymous and their words and faces have hardly been broadcasted in Japan so far.]

* I'm acting not out of desperation or heroism. I just want to do the right thing in a calm way.

* If I believe in one thing as a right thing and express it in words, my action must follow.

* People of different generations should respond differently. They have their right and duty to do so.

* I may feel scared when I actually step into the site. I must be well prepared. If some volunteers feel too scared at the site and quit, I won't blame them.

* We'd like to be equipped with the best means for the work. We need international supports as well.

* This project not like the Kamikaze suicide attack. Our mission is to fix the problem, not to die in vain.

* Personally, I don't regard this act as self-sacrifice. I do this because this is the most rational choice. This is how engineers think and act.

* This is not an attack in war against people of other nations. In this sense, I feel no hesitation to be engaged in this 'fight.'

* However, I'll never forget that this nuclear accident is not a natural disaster, but a man-made disaster.

* Payment should not be the issue. If you do a job like this for money, the motivation of workers will be lost. Workers in a situation like this need psychological support from ordinary people.

* I need cooperation from the government and TEPCO. I won't be engaged in the debate concerning the nuclear power issues for now. We want to fix the problem now.

Yoshio Hirai (Ex-translator, a long-time friend of Yamada's. Instructor of Aikido, a Japanese martial art (Budo))

* I don't have technical knowledge or skills. I'd like to help the volunteers at the site for the routine works.

* Personally, I don't think I'm a nationalist. Rather I do this because this is the right thing. Gikyo-shin (義侠心), a spirit of of samurai, is something I always keep in mind. I am a man of Budo.

* At my age, I feel less scared about my death.

* If people like us do not go, the government may send the young members of the Self Defence Force of Japan. I don't want to send young people to this kind of mission.

Sasaki (Wife of Hirai, ex-translator)

* (Asked if the gender is an issue here). The gender is not an issue. I just don't want to see young people ruin their lives for this kind of work.

* Even if our generation may not be directly responsible for the World War II (we were too young at the time of the war), we are absolutely responsible for the nuclear power in the post war Japan. I have enjoyed my life so far. The current life of mine is like a extra-present.

From my Japanese blog article, which is based on the video below.

Here is the video offered by an independent journalist, Yasumi Iwakami (@iwakamiyasumi ) and his staff (@iwakami_staff ). (Incidentally, the cozy relationship of Kisha club (the the press club of Japanese newspapers and TV stations that excludes journalists working independently or for Japanese magazines or foreign media) has emerged as a very important issue to, I'd say, 'normalize' this country. No country can be sound without good journalism.)

Interview with Yastel Yamada and his colleagues

Video streaming by Ustream

You may want to follow Yamada on Twitter,

or send him email.

Get more information from his web page.

Skilled Veterans Corps at the Fukushima-Daiichi Nuclear Power

As I said at the beginning of this blog article, I believe this is an ethical question for ourselves as well as a practical problem for the Fukushima nuclear plants.

I've blogged and tweeted about this issue a number of times so far, but I have only received one feedback. Considering the number of response that I usually receive for my blogging and tweeting, I find this rather odd.

If my friends and the general public in Japan are too afraid, I hope I'm mistaken, to even think about this issue, I believe they are betraying their ancestors of samurai, who established the ethical and moral code of this nation. That, I'd argue, is unpatriotic.

P.S. (May 8, 2011)

I've received a lot of feedback now. I particularly thank Mr. Yamada and Mr. Iwakami for their retweets.

Some corrections were made for grammar in the above article.